“Think of all the planes that take off and land each day.”
“Flying is the safest way to travel.”
“Turbulence is nothing more than a bump in the road.”
These are just a few things friends and family have said to me over the years when I tell them about my fear of flying. While they are all said with good intentions, none of those sentiments help with my fear.
When My Fear of Flying Started
My family didn’t fly much when I was a kid. We took a family vacation to Disney and I remember not being afraid at all. The next time I flew was on a high school trip to Europe. I was definitely much more anxious, but it was controllable. Just taking Dramamine was enough to knock me out and when I was awake I wasn’t bothered by it.
Looking back I can see my fear progressing slowly. Before I was married I took a weekend trip to Chicago with my then fiancé. My anxiety was so high that I had to have the steward bring me many alcoholic beverages just to make it through the two hour flight. It was the same situation when I had to travel for Denver for a work conference. It didn’t matter to me that the flight was 6 a.m., I sat down and immediately asked for a drink to calm my nerves. For my one year anniversary we took a trip to Paris and London. I took a sleeping pill to knock me out, but it made me violently ill on the plane. On the way back I was so distraught on the plane that the stewardess had to come over many times to make sure I was ok.
My fear really started to take hold of me when I got married. I started avoiding flying at all costs. I was too afraid to fly anywhere for our honeymoon, so we drove to Montreal and Quebec. My daughter and I backed out of my husband’s business partner’s wedding because it was in California. My daughter was two at the time so it was easy to blame her for not being able to handle the trip than to admit I was too afraid to get on a plane.
That One BAD Flight
If you talk to frequent travelers I’m sure they will tell you about at least one bad flight they have experienced. For me, someone who never flies, I have had more bad experiences than most. I’ve taken off in a blizzard, had seat cushions come off at landing, flew in high winds after a nor’easter, and even landed during a snowstorm.
It seems like extreme weather events like to accompany me on my flights. All of these experiences were nothing compared to a flight I took from New York to Los Angeles. I was going to the “Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Part 1” premiere. As excited as I was, I knew I had to get through the flight first. It started off ok but about three hours into the flight there was violent turbulence. The plane started dropping to the side and shaking so violently that the overhead bins opened and luggage fell out. Other passengers were screaming, kids were crying, and worst of all the pilot said NOTHING the whole time.
Panic doesn’t even describe what I was going through. My muscles were so tense that my hands cramped into claws, unable to move. When I got home from that trip I swore I wouldn’t fly again. Then came our first family trip to Disney
Trying My Best
After that flight to LA I knew I couldn’t fly without some type of medical support. I spoke to my doctor and he prescribed me Xanax. The Xanax knocked me out during the flight but everything leading up to the flight home was so taxing on my mind and body. (My husband and daughter flew both ways. I took an overnight train down to Florida because I was too afraid to fly). I was so panic stricken for months before and the week of I could barely function. Eating was impossible, my stomach hurt constantly and I would wake up from a dead sleep in a cold sweat because I had a dream that I was on a plane. So from 2013 to 2019 I didn’t take a single flight.
Learning Away The Fear
In October I had an amazing opportunity to go to Arizona. It was an opportunity that I couldn’t pass up so I knew that I had to fly. I had my prescription of Xanax ready but I felt I needed something more. One thing that I hate about flying is that I have no idea what’s going on. I’m Type A, control freak and the lack of control I felt on the plane was the root of my anxiety.
I bought a book called “Flying Without Fear” by Duane Brown. Brown hosts seminars with people who are afraid of flying so he has heard every crazy fear there is. As I was reading I was laughing because so many things he’s heard people say I have said or thought at least 100 times. This book was more than stories, it was information.
Information on how a plane worked (for example I didn’t know a plane could glide) and what’s going on during certain situations. He gives you the odds of certain events happening and how the pilot can prevent them. All of these things made me feel so much better. Even though it didn’t give me any control, it did give me knowledge that I was lacking and that I needed
Flying Going Forward
I can’t say I flew fear-free in October. I still needed Xanax and had a lot of anxiety leading up to the flight going to Arizona. Going home, my anxiety was so much less which makes me think I took a step in the right direction. I hope to one day fly without Xanax and to be able to relax on a plane. For now, I’m taking each little victory as it comes. I’m sure there will be some bumps along the way but as I learned from my book “turbulence is normal.”
Are you afraid of flying?